Monday, August 24, 2015

On the Trail of Lonesome Ghosts [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

I've been watching Disney's "Lonesome Ghosts" from 1937 and wondering... where did Dick Friel get the story idea and how much it relates to the ghostbreaker tradition dating back seventy years. Now, if you've lived under a rock and never seen the cartoon I'm talking about, it appeared originally on December 24, 1937. (Like Mr. Dickens, Mr. Disney enjoys a ghost at Christmas.) But most of us saw it later: on Disneyland (1954), with The Sword in the Stone (1963), The Wonderful World of Color (1958), The Mouse Factory (1972), with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in 1982, or in 1983, 1989, 1997, 1998, and on. Fisher-Price even had a silent, hand-cranked version as a toy. If you were like me, you saw it on The Wonderful World of Disney on the CBC back into the '70s. It doesn't matter. Most people have seen Mickey, Donald and Goofy go into the haunted house and try to deal with its mischievous inhabitants, laughed, and forgotten about it.

This cartoon has been haunting me though. I have to think "Lonesome Ghosts" was probably the very first piece of media to suggest the idea of "ghost busters" to me. I never saw The Ghost Busters with Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch in 1975. By then I had moved onto Kolchak the Nightstalker. (I was twelve after all!) 1975 was a good time to be a horror kid. My parents would never have let me see The Exorcist or anything like that, but television had Dan Curtis and other TV movie producers creating shows like Gargoyles, Moon of the Wolf, and The Night Strangler. And as long as you weren't allergic to Bradford Dillman, you got some kid-sized scares that worked you up to William Friedkin's The Exorcist and Steven Spielberg's Jaws.

But to go back to 1937 and the three intrepid members of the Ajax Ghost Exterminators. I look for clues like our brilliant detectives. The first is the date: 1937. What films or books might have been so popular that Friel would think to do a cartoon from them? The answer was pretty easy to locate. Topper was the box office winner for 1937, coming out on July 16. Based on the 1926 novel by Thorne Smith, the film features two fun-loving ghosts played by Cary Grant and Constance Bennett. The couple torment conservative banker Cosmo Topper, played by Roland Young (who received an Oscar nomination for the part.) Topper is a Walter Mitty type, regimented by his wife who's played by Billie Burke. The scene that most likely affected Friel was the finale of the film, when the ghosts pull Topper out of a fancy hotel, playing gags on the house detective and bellboy.

So far, so good. But it doesn't explain everything. The Disney story man could have just had Mickey and friends arrive at the old house late one night, a ploy used in some later Sylvester and Porky Pig cartoons at Warner Brothers. But Friel doesn't do this. He specifically makes them ghostbreakers, the three members of the Ajax Ghost Exterminators. Armed with silly tools like a shotgun, a butterfly net, an axe, and a mouse trap, the three characters enter a house worthy of a Weird Tales cover. Now, Friel may have done all this for the joke of comparing vermin exterminators with ghost exterminators, a trope that would last until the 1980s when Harold Ramis and Dan Ackroyd wrote Ghostbusters, but I wonder if Friel was inspired by something more?

The date 1937 makes this hard. Many of the great ghostbreaker pieces don't exist until after that date. I Love a Mystery, the radio show that would inspire Scooby Doo, was 1939. Ghostbuster films like Bob Hope's The Ghostbreakers (1940, but based on the Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard's 1909 play) and the Bowery Boys' Spook Busters, as well as the Abbott and Costello films are all in the mid-'40s or later. Even Basil Rathbone as Sherlock in The Hound of the Baskervilles came on the verge of the war, in 1939. No actual ghost breaker films appear in and around 1937.

That leaves print stories. Was Dick Friel a horror connoisseur? There is very little information on the man. He worked for the Jefferson Film Corporation in the 1920s, a company that made the Mutt and Jeff cartoons. His only Disney credit is "Lonesome Ghosts." So who knows? The most popular occult detective in 1937 was Jules de Grandin in Weird Tales, but there appears to be no influence on Mickey, Donald, and Goofy. Another was Gees by EC Vivian (under his Jack Mann pseudonym). One of Vivian's influences was the jungle writer Arthur Friel. Friel's stories set in South America - like "The Barragudo" - have a ghostbreaker element. A strange coincidence, but hardly proof of anything. Were Dick and Arthur Friel related? Like ghosts, the threads are tantalizing, but disappear like smoke.

In the end I can't find anything that links the cartoon to a specific horror icon. Mickey and Goofy wear Sherlockian deerstalkers but this was cartoon short-hand for any detective. One of the ghosts is sitting in a chair with a book called Ghost Stories on the floor, but not any particular ghost stories. As with all cartoons at this time, it was about the gags. The short soft shoe routine the ghosts do into a closet reminded me a little of Disney's "The Skeleton Dance" from 1929 (which won Disney an Oscar), but mostly it's pokes in the eye with Goofy getting stuck in a bureau, a scene that may have inspired a similar bit in "Prest-O, Change-O," an early Bugs Bunny cartoon from 1939.

Ultimately, my biggest take away is Goofy's declaring, "I ain't a-scared of no ghosts," which will become Ray Parker Jr's singing "I ain't afraid of no ghosts!" in 1984. In between 1937 and '84 we had Casper the Friendly Ghost in cartoons and comics, who I am sure was inspired in part by "Lonesome Ghosts." The derby-wearing quartet became the Ghostly Trio in time, and Spooky sports some similar head gear. Strangely, the Casper copyright holders tried to sue Columbia for fifty million because of the ghost used in the ghostbusters logo. They lost. Disney never said boo.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) | Music



Éric Serra's attempt to combine the Bond sound with synth music in GoldenEye had been a failure, but film composer David Arnold was more successful. After scoring Stargate and Independence Day, Arnold more or less auditioned for the Bond gig by putting together an album of techno and rock covers of Bond songs. He called it Shaken and Stirred: The David Arnold James Bond Project.

It's an interesting album with covers by Aimee Mann ("Nobody Does It Better"), Chrissie Hynde ("Live and Let Die"), and Iggy Pop ("We Have All the Time in the World"), as well as a bunch of techno bands I'm less familiar with. It's experimental though, so if you're turned off by albums with the word "project" in the title, it may not be for you. It's not something that I'll listen to over and over again except for Iggy Pop's song and Propellerheads' nine-and-a-half minute version of the theme from On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Rumor has it that John Barry heard and liked the album so much that he recommended Arnold to Broccoli and Wilson as the composer for Tomorrow Never Dies. I'm not sure about that timeline since Shaken and Stirred was released only a little over a month before Tomorrow, but maybe Barry heard the album while it was in production? Who knows. However he got the job, Arnold was hired to score Tomorrow and he was a great choice.

He uses the Bond Theme a ton in the movie. Pretty much any time that Bond's doing something cool the Theme - or a portion of it - is playing: during the teaser when Bond steals the plane, as Bond pulls into MI6 HQ in his Aston Martin, when he's test-driving the BMW, escaping from Carver's printing press, finishing up the remote-control chase in the parking garage, getting out of a helicopter, fleeing on a motorcycle while handcuffed to Michelle Yeoh, or stopping a missile. I don't think the Bond Theme had been used that much in any other movie so far.

Arnold also took a stab at writing the theme song, teaming up with lyricist Don Black (who'd co-written with Barry the songs for ThunderballDiamonds Are Forever, and The Man with the Golden Gun) and singer-songwriter David McAlmont (who covered "Diamonds Are Forever" on Shaken and Stirred). Sadly, MGM wanted a more popular artist for the theme and invited several to submit their own versions. Sheryl Crow won.

Crow's isn't a bad song. It combines a) the tradition of writing a love song using the movie's title with b) the school of writing about a character in the movie. In it, a Bond Girl laments how Bond's treated her while holding hope for the future ("tomorrow never dies," you see). In fact, "not bad" is an understatement. It's a very good song. My problem with it is the wispy airiness of Crow's voice. That's always been a barrier to my enjoying her work. She's just not a strong enough singer to pound out a Bond song the way it needs to be delivered.

Contrast her with kd lang, who sings Arnold's stab at the theme song (re-titled "Surrender") over the closing credits. Lang belts it out as strongly as Arnold's bold, blaring arrangement. It's catchy, it's beautiful, and it's totally Bond. That should have been the main theme. One more bad decision by the filmmakers. It would have made my Top Five Theme Songs list.

[UPDATE: After three days of having "Surrender" pleasantly stuck in my head, I'm putting it on the list. Doesn't matter which credits it goes with, it deserves it.]



Daniel Kleinman is back to design the titles again and he's still doing great work. Borrowing from the movie's themes of television and technology, the opening credits feature lots of TV screens (often being smashed) and computer circuitry (often in the shape of women's bodies). There's also a lot of x-ray imagery that I'm not sure where it comes from, but is very cool nonetheless. Maybe it's something about the power of the media to reveal hidden things? Dang. That would've made a great premise for this movie if it had been about that.

There's one puzzling sequence at the end where a woman dives from a floating circle of enormous diamonds and splashes into a TV screen. It might be weirdness for its own sake, but I can't help connecting it with Paris, whose fall from her position of wealth as Carver's wife contributes to the downfall of his television empire. I feel like I'm stretching there, but maybe it's another example of the credits sequence understanding the thematic potential of the movie better than the movie does itself.

Top Ten Theme Songs

1. A View to a Kill
2. "Surrender" (end credits of Tomorrow Never Dies)
3. The Living Daylights
4. The Spy Who Loved Me ("Nobody Does It Better")
5. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
6. Diamonds Are Forever
7. You Only Live Twice
8. From Russia With Love (instrumental version)
9. Live and Let Die
10. Dr No

Top Ten Title Sequences

1. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
2. Dr No
3. Thunderball
4. Goldfinger
5. GoldenEye
6. From Russia with Love
7. The Spy Who Loved Me
8. Tomorrow Never Dies
9. Diamonds Are Forever
10. Live and Let Die

Friday, August 21, 2015

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) | Villains



Elliot Carver may just be my least favorite Bond villain. I like Jonathan Pryce in most things (especially as Keira Knightley's dad in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies), so I don't know why he's so unbelievably exaggerated in Tomorrow Never Dies. Ultimately, the blame has to fall on director Roger Spottiswoode. He's made some movies that I enjoyed (Shoot to Kill being my favorite of his), but I'd need to go back and revisit them to see if overblown villains are a recurring theme for him or if he just thought that's what was needed for a Bond film. Either way, it's a horrible choice and if it wasn't his idea, he should have reined Pryce in.

Pryce isn't even trying to look real. One of the most hilarious things he does is his fakey way of typing, with his fingers flying all over his pad without his looking at it. That mirrors the character who also isn't trying to fool anyone, not that that makes it any better. Carver is clearly insane and how he's risen to such influence is even more incomprehensible for him than it was for Max Zorin in View to a Kill.

A minor example of Carver's craziness is his paranoia about Paris. He goes nuts and orders her execution when he overhears her asking Bond whether he still sleeps with a gun under his pillow. That's hardly incriminating if Bond used to date Paris' roommate, which was their cover story. Why wouldn't that be something she knew?

A bigger example though is his cartoonish megalomania. He thinks himself so untouchable that he pays no attention to covering his tracks. On the contrary, he draws attention to himself by reporting news before it's possible to know it. And he sends a British ship to its doom with a fatally misleading GPS signal that's easily tracked to his own satellite!



I always enjoy seeing magician Ricky Jay on camera, but he's the only interesting thing about the character of Henry Gupta. We see these scientist/tech support bad guys a lot in Bond movies and I don't usually mention them, but Ricky Jay has such a distinctive look that he makes me happy when I recognize him. And even though the part is thankless, it's still way better than the next guy.



The assassin Dr. Kaufman is the best example of my biggest problem with Tomorrow Never Dies: Its tone. Vincent Schiavelli is always weirdly comedic, but his dialogue in Tomorrow is impossible to take seriously, too. He belongs in a Get Smart episode, not a Bond movie where he's just murdered the alleged love of Bond's life. I was already having problems investing in Paris; Kaufman also makes a joke out of her death.



Stamper is the latest in the blonde, buff henchman archetype. Götz Otto is a handsome dude, but the only other thing that makes Stamper stand out is that he claims to have been Dr. Kaufman's protégé. And that's not standing out in a good way, because it makes him look dumb by association. Why would anyone follow that goofball?

None of these people crack the Top Ten.

Top Ten Villains

1. Auric Goldfinger (Goldfinger)
2. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Never Say Never Again)
3. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (From Russia With Love and Thunderball)
4. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
5. Maximilian Largo (Never Say Never Again)
6. Francisco Scaramanga (The Man with the Golden Gun)
7. Dr. Kananga (Live and Let Die)
8. Doctor No (Dr. No)
9. General Gogol (For Your Eyes Only)
10. Karl Stromberg (The Spy Who Loved Me)

Top Ten Henchmen

1. Baron Samedi (Live and Let Die)
2. Fiona Volpe (Thunderball)
3. Grant (From Russia with Love)
4. Nick Nack (The Man with the Golden Gun)
5. Gobinda (Octopussy)
6. May Day (A View to a Kill)
7. Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker)
8. Naomi (The Spy Who Loved Me)
9. Oddjob (Goldfinger)
10. Necros (The Living Daylights)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) | Women



Language professor Inga Bergstrom isn't a character, she's a joke. Literally. She's just there to show Bond in bed with a woman ('cause that's how he do) and to set up really old puns about tongues and cunnilingus.



I've mostly said my piece on Paris Carver, but there's one more thing I want to point out. As much as I dislike retconning in "important" relationships to give a story weight, there's a way to do it well. Tomorrow Never Dies doesn't.

And it's Teri Hatcher's fault. I couldn't be a bigger fan of her from Lois and Clark, but there's no vulnerability in her performance as Paris. At all. She's so guarded when she asks Bond, "Did I get too close?" I get that she's pissed at him for most of the time she's on screen, but if we're ever going to feel any emotion for these two as a couple, that should be the moment that creates it. Instead, when Bond says, "Yes," I don't believe him. There's nothing ever between the two of them that sells them as ever having had a deep connection.



Wai Lin is fantastic. She's played by Michelle Yeoh, which helps a lot, but I love the way she's written, too. Unlike similar characters (looking at you, Amasova and Goodhead), she doesn't let Bond take over the whole mission. They're equal partners and their romance is an afterthought once the job is done. There's no pretense that it's anything but a hook up, but after the unconvincing "depth" of Paris, that's refreshing.

Wai Lin totally makes the Top Ten, pushing out Mary Goodnight. That makes me sad, because Goodnight's generally underrated, but the list is getting competitive and Wai Lin even makes my Top Five.

My Favorite Bond Women

1. Tracy Bond (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
2. Melina Havelock (For Your Eyes Only)
3. Kara Milovy (The Living Daylights)
4. Wai Lin (Tomorrow Never Dies)
5. Paula Caplan (Thunderball)
6. Tatiana Romanova (From Russia With Love)
7. Natalya Simonova (GoldenEye)
8. Fiona Volpe (Thunderball)
9. Domino Derval (Thunderball)
10. Holly Goodhead (Moonraker)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) | Bond

Actors and Allies



Brosnan's not doing anything too different than what he did in GoldenEye, but the script's not helping him out. He's playing it straight, but the rest of the movie can't decide what tone it wants to take and undercuts him. Still, he's doing a fine job and is a much better Bond than I anticipated when they hired him.

When he was first up for the role to replace Roger Moore, I was a big Remington Steele fan, but assumed that Brosnan's Bond would continue the light-hearted, foppish take that Moore developed. After Dalton, I didn't want to go back to the Moore version and was thrilled that Brosnan apparently didn't either.

M continues to be a figure of restraint in Tomorrow, but this time Bond is her ally. She's at odds with the Navy, who wants to bluster forward and start a war with China, while she's trying to investigate and gather information. The Navy's position is stupid (especially since there's tangible evidence linking Elliot Carver to the sinking of the British vessel in Chinese waters), but I like that it puts M and Bond on the same side and gives her a reason to stick up for him. He's very much an instrument of her will, which is a theme I love and am glad it's going to continue through Judi Dench's time as the character.

I especially like when she has to remind him that sex is a viable tool to get information from his former girlfriend. I don't buy the Paris-Bond relationship, but it's a refreshing change to see Bond reluctant to use sex that way, but be ordered into it by M. Bond has always made jokes about "having" to go to bed with beautiful women "for queen and country," so it's cool (and kind of a comeuppance) to finally see him do it against his will.

Getting a bit more of a handle on Bond's relationship with Moneypenny now. It was vague in GoldenEye, but Tomorrow shows that she's not flirting with him. She knows what he's like and it doesn't bother her - in fact, she's able to wink and joke about it - but she's way too smart to fall for his crap herself. I miss the mutual flirtation of Lois Maxwell's version, but Stephanie Bond's take is cool too.

Joe Don Baker is back as Jack Wade and I still like him. I'd still rather see a great version of Felix, but I like Wade better than most versions of Felix up to this point.

And finally, there's Michelle Yeoh's character, Wai Lin. Usually when I think of Tomorrow Never Dies, I remember Carver and Paris and will tell you that I hate the movie. But I'm forgetting about Wai Lin when I do that. She and Bond make an awesome team with neither of them really being "in charge." They're convincing as agents with competing priorities whose missions happen to align this one time. They also have fun chemistry and the last half of the movie is pretty great because of it.

Best Quip



"I've always been a fan of Chinese technology," after playing with many Chinese spy gadgets culminating in a dart-shooting fan. It's a funny scene anyway with great reactions by Brosnan, but the pun puts it over the top.

Worst Quip



"Backseat driver," after ejecting the enemy gunner from the backseat of the plane Bond's stealing. Too easy.

Gadgets



Tomorrow has a couple of pretty cool gadgets that I'll get to in a second, but there are also a couple of small items that need mentioning. Both are explosives: one concealed in a lighter and the other (stolen from Wai Lin's stash) is hidden in a watch. That second one is so tiny that I'm not sure what it's intended purpose is. Bond uses it to break some glass, but it doesn't produce any flame, so it doesn't look very effective against anything stronger.

The bigger personal item is a cell phone that includes a skeleton key, a taser, a fingerprint scanner/copier, and a car remote that not only unlocks Bond's new BMW, it also drives it.

The BMW is the big showcase item for Tomorrow. In addition to being able to be driven by the phone, it's also fully loaded with an electrified security system, smoke cloud, cable cutters, a caltrops dispenser (and matching re-inflatable tires), and rockets. It's also bulletproof and sledgehammer proof, but apparently not grenade launcher proof, though the bad guys don't try that until Bond's already in the car and getting away. When Q gives Bond the car, he also claims there are machineguns, but Bond never uses them.

Speaking of giving Bond the car, it's totally lame to squeeze in one more product placement by having Q wear an Avis jacket and hand the car over at the rental company. It's a funny scene as Q reads through the insurance options, but it doesn't make sense in the context of how MI6 usually does things.

Having the car be a BMW is another unfortunate effect of product placement. The vehicle's gadgets are mostly great, but the car itself is bland and not in the same class as the Aston Martins or Lotus. Also, the remote control is a cool fantasy, but doesn't seem like it would work in real life. Including it comes from the same impulse that's going to give us an invisible car in Die Another Day. Don't like it.

Top Ten Gadgets

1. Lotus Esprit (The Spy Who Loved Me)
2. Aston Martin DB V (Goldfinger and Thunderball)
3. Jet pack (Thunderball)
4. Iceberg boat (A View to a Kill)
5. Aston Martin V8 Vantage (The Living Daylights)
6. Glastron CV23HT speed boat (Moonraker)
7. Acrostar Mini Jet (Octopussy)
8. Crocodile submarine (Octopussy)
9. Little Nellie (You Only Live Twice)
10. Rocket cigarettes (You Only Live Twice)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) | Story



Plot Summary

A stupidly short-sided news mogul tries to beat his competition to stories by creating events and reporting on them before they happen. Bond and Michelle Yeoh put a stop to it.

Influences

Fresh out of Fleming influences to pull from, Barbara Broccoli and her step-brother Michael G Wilson (Cubby Broccoli had passed away shortly after the release of GoldenEye) turned to screenwriter Bruce Feirstein. He'd been one of the writers on GoldenEye and came up with a story based on his own experiences as a journalist, creating a villain along the lines of Robert Maxwell and Rupert Murdoch. Drawing inspiration from the Beatles song "Tomorrow Never Knows," Feirstein named his bad guy's newspaper Tomorrow and the name of the movie was going to be Tomorrow Never Lies. Which makes tons more sense than Tomorrow Never Dies, but (so the story goes) thanks to a bad fax, that was what MGM thought the title was going to be and they fell in love with it.

How Is the Book Different?

Tomorrow Never Dies is the first Bond movie to take none of its name or plot from anything Fleming-related. Other than the standard cast of characters, I can't think of a single thing that it owes directly to the books.

Moment That's Most Like Fleming



There are a couple of Fleming-like elements though. A tiny one is that Bond keeps his gun in a special container in his glove compartment, but a major one is the way he approaches his case. He's in total Blunt Instrument mode.

As soon as he knows that Elliot Carver is his man (which is really early, thanks to Carver's stupidity), Bond's whole tactic is to go meet Carver and just stir crap up. Bond lets Carver know right away that he's under suspicion; then moves in on Carver's wife. I don't even know why Bond's "investigation" is necessary, because MI6 has enough evidence already to seize Carver's assets and launch a full inquiry, but whatever. Bond doesn't pussyfoot around with Carver and that's very much like Fleming's character.

Moment That's Least Like Fleming



There's a bunch about Tomorrow that feels off, but I'll mention two big ones. The first is Carver's wife (and a former girlfriend of Bond) named Paris. It's cool and all that Carver is married to someone that Bond used to date - that's kind of novel - but the movie claims that she was a major, important person in his life. It makes the claim super unconvincingly, but it makes it. That not only doesn't feel like Fleming's Bond, it doesn't even feel like the movie version. There's only ever been one significant woman for Bond and it ain't this one.

Paris is an example of an even deeper problem though, and that's the inconsistency of Tomorrow's tone. One of GoldenEye's strengths was that it reconciled Bond's humor with the darkness of his world. Tomorrow doesn't have that balance. It just gives us dark moments right next to goofy ones with no attempt to bring the two together. The silliness robs the tragic moments of their weight, and the grim stuff makes the humor inappropriate. Fleming was a way better writer than that.

Cold Open



The teaser starts with a terrorist arms bazaar on the Russian border (because we still don't trust those Russians). It's cool that the movie shows us this from the perspective of the MI6 command center with no Bond in sight for a while. Instead, M and her new Chief of Staff are at odds with an admiral about how best to handle the market. M wants to gather intelligence, while the Navy just wants to bomb the place and get it over with.

The admiral pulls rank and orders a missile strike over the objections of "White Knight," M's agent at the bazaar who's supplying them all with the video they're watching. Of course, White Knight is actually Bond and he's right that they should've held off the attack, because one of the planes for sale is carrying nuclear weapons and an explosion will kill far more than just the terrorists.

Since it's too late to abort the missile strike, Bond's only choice is to steal the plane and get it out of the area, which he does. There's a nice moment when the admiral wonders what the hell Bond is doing and M replies, "His job!" It's an unnecessarily combative question for the admiral to be asking - creating some extra tension that doesn't need to be there and doesn't really make sense - but I like that M defends her man despite their disagreements in GoldenEye.

We can't have a teaser without some kind of action set piece, so Bond steals his plane with the gunner still in the backseat. The gunner chokes Bond, who has to fly the plane with his knees, get it under a pursuing plane, then eject the gunner into the other plane, making it explode.

It's one of the more implausible teasers, made even clunkier by its not having much to do with the rest of the movie. Carver's tech guy makes a cameo appearance at the bazaar where he's seen buying some equipment that will help in Carver's plan, but he's totally unconnected to what Bond's doing there and as far as the rest of the movie's concerned he could have gotten that tech anywhere.

Top 10 Cold Opens

1. GoldenEye
2. The Spy Who Loved Me
3. Moonraker
4. Thunderball
5. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
6. A View to a Kill
7. Goldfinger
8. The Man with the Golden Gun
9. The Living Daylights
10. Licence to Kill

Movie Series Continuity



M's traditional Chief of Staff, Bill Tanner (from the novels and a few movies including GoldenEye) has been replaced by the extremely handsome Charles Robinson (Colin Salmon from Alien vs Predator, the Resident Evil movies, and Arrow). I wonder if it has anything to do with Tanner's calling M the "evil queen of numbers" last movie? At any rate, Robinson's going to stick around for the rest of the Brosnan films and I'm glad. Like him a lot.

The only other bit of movie continuity I noticed (besides Paris, I mean) is that Bond is still a secret agent. He hasn't been a world-famous spy since the middle of the Moore era. Carver does figure out who he works for, but has to do some digging to come up with it. And he also comes up with Michelle Yeoh's employer, so it's meant as an example of Carver's resourcefulness, not Bond's notoriety.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Tragg and the Sky Gods [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

I want to read all the old Gold Key original comics. Titles like Tales of Sword and Sorcery, Solar, Man of the Atom, and Magnus, Robot Fighter conjure up feelings inside me that are hard for anyone born before 1960 and after 1980 to understand.  Unless you grew up in the '70s and remember all those comic book covers by Jessie Santos, Richard Powers, and others calling to you, you just won't get it. I never got to read many of them until now. Sure, they were twenty-five cents, sitting there in the wire rack, but I was a kid and a quarter wasn't easy to find. (And Marvel and DC always came first.) Later I saw copies in bags, two a piece, in stores like Woolco and Woolworths (two establishments as dead and gone as Gold Key). I have no idea what they sold for, but I didn't buy any of those either. But occasionally, I came across a copy somewhere. Just a taste...

The contents were never as good as those covers, but it still remains a dream of mine to read all the old titles, especially those written by Donald F Glut. His books were always the best because he genuinely liked the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres. I'm starting my journey with Tragg and the Sky Gods. This is a very appropriate title to begin with since the idea that inspired it could only have come from that decade. Erich von Daniken's Chariot of the Gods? (1968) inspired a good part of the '70s love of Bigfoot, the occult, UFOs, and other fringe beliefs. It was in to be out. Far out!

Whether you believe the truth is out there or not, you can't deny that von Daniken had an impact on fantastic publishing. Tragg and the Sky-Gods (June 1975-May 1982) is only one example. DAW Books published John Jakes' Conan-parody-with-UFOs called Mention My Name in Atlantis (1972) as well as Kenneth Bulmer's more serious version in Dream Chariots (1977 with two sequels) to name only two. Marvel tried to cash in with Marvel Preview #1 (February 1975) featuring Doug Moench and Alex Nino's "Man-God from Beyond the Stars," as well as an 11-page article on von Daniken's book. Carl Sagan and other scientists have debunked von Daniken's ideas in later years but it didn't stop him from selling 63 million copies of his books and flavoring the '70s with unsolved mysteries and alien visitors.

Also popular in that decade was a hold-over from previous decades: cavemen and dinosaurs. Still hot in 1975, despite One Million Years BC appearing in 1966, the ideas that Conan Doyle started in 1913, Edgar Rice Burroughs expanded upon until 1950, and Frazetta painted in the '50s and '60s, eventually brought us Rachel Welch in a prehistoric bikini. When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth appeared in 1970, Land of the Lost was 1974, The Land That Time Forgot showed up in 1975, and At the Earth's Core arrived in 1976. You get the idea. Sexy cave chicks and pterodons were as prevalent as Hostess Fruit Pie ads! Gold Key used a lot of dinosaurs in comics like Turok, Son of Stone and Tarzan, so another one wasn't going to be a problem.

Tragg and the Sky Gods features Tragg and his lover Lorn (not a guy, but a hot red-head in a fur bikini), two advanced cavemen who, as children, were genetically manipulated by aliens from Yagorn with an evolvo-ray. The only problem is that the aliens left Earth and returned twenty-five years later. During that time, the benevolent scientists have been replaced by conquerors. No longer is the mission to help man evolve, but the enslavement of the human race! Tragg and Lorn have to leave their people but stay close to guard them against Zorek (a true Ming-wannabe, moustache and all) and the Sky Gods' nefarious schemes. There's only one problem for the dictator: his fiancée Keera has fallen for Tragg with his burly cave muscles. And despite having jet packs, ray guns, evolvo-rays, and - one would think - highly developed scientific knowledge, the baddies fail. Armed only with spears, dinosaurs, and Keera's treachery, Tragg and his friends set the invaders back, crippling their ship, destroying their volcano base, and stemming the coming invasion from Yagorn.

The comic ran for eight issues, with a reprint at the end, plus three additional stories in other Gold Key comics. In just eleven stories, Don Glut, Dan Speigle, and Jessie Santos presented an entertaining struggle between earthmen and aliens that unfortunately remains unfinished. But Glut did manage a couple of nice things in that short time. First off, I have to applaud his use of dinosaurs. Yes, they don't belong in an age of cavemen, but if you're going to have them, use them well. Glut identifies each major dinosaur that appears, making them as accurate as possible. (He does ignore time periods, with an allosaurus and a T-Rex existing at the same time. He also shows a saber tooth eating a dimetrodon, so what the hell?) It is apparent that the writer is a real dinosaur fan and not just throwing vaguely dino-shaped monsters at us. Looking at Glut's later career, I see he has written several volumes on dinosaurs including the award-winning Dinosaur Dictionary (1972) and The Dinosaur Encyclopedia (1997). He has also written for TV shows like Land of the Lost and Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle. He also maintains an interesting cave-girl and dinosaur website (not for the kids).

The other thing Glut does is connect all his Gold Key series together in a mythos of sorts. In issue #8 (February 1977) he goes in a sword-and-sorcery direction, bringing the sorcerer Ostellon to Earth in a meteorite. The evil mage is serving the Dark Gods from Glut's Dagar comics. The dark ones show Ostellon the descendants of Tragg, namely Dagar and Doctor Spektor. They charge the magician with killing the caveman so these other men never exist. Of course he fails, but Ostellon is the only other big villain in the series. Later, when I get to those other two series, I will keep an eye out for the white-skinned, green-cowled mage and his masters.

My Gold Key journey has only begun. Was I disappointed with Tragg? Not at all. My appetite is only whetted. The journey continues in chronological order (of history, not publication date) with Tales of Sword and Sorcery: Dagar the Invincible...

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

GoldenEye (1995) | Music



So much time had passed between Licence to Kill and GoldenEye that the Broccoli's and Wilson lost some of their traditional partners, including screenwriter Richard Maibaum, director John Glen, and composer John Barry. To replace Barry, they hired French composer Éric Serra who'd worked with Luc Besson on La Femme Nikita and Léon: The Professional.

Serra's score is notorious for its inappropriate (and to my ears, awful) synthesizer music, but there are some lovely orchestral sections. The romantic theme that plays as Bond arrives at the casino in Monte Carlo - and again when he's on the Caribbean beach with Natalya - is beautiful.

Sadly, he didn't include the Bond Theme almost at all, except for an electronic version that was supposed to play during the tank chase. Instead of his version though, the producers hired the score's conductor, John Altman, to write a more traditional arrangement of the Bond Theme that was used in the final cut.

Serra had nothing to do with the theme song, which was written by Bono and The Edge from U2. (Although he did do the closing credits song, a forgettable piece that sounds like a lesser Peter Gabriel or Sting song to me.) During the time when Duran Duran and a-ha were making Bond songs, it was a dream of mine that U2 also get to do one. I was a huge fan of that band. So I was excited that half the group would get to write the song for GoldenEye (appropriately, the other half arranged the Mission: Impossible theme for the first film in that series), but disappointed that it was sung by Tina Turner. She's got a great voice, but I didn't care for her stuff in the '80s and felt that she was another intentional throwback to older Bond songs instead of keeping up with the times, which is what I wanted.

It's a great song though. The  lyrics are dark and creepy, about a woman who's been scorned by a dangerous man and is watching for her chance at revenge. There's a cool parallel between that story and Alec's in the movie, if Alec is the woman and Britain is the man. The "goldeneye" in the song is hers/Alec's as they watch their prey and it fits with the golden peacock eye in Carson McCullers' novel Reflections in a Golden Eye, which may or may not have inspired Ian Fleming for the name of his Jamaican house that gave GoldenEye its title. In McCullers' novel, the peacock sees a horrible, twisted reality that mirrors the point of view of some of the characters in the book. So, as the song points out, the Golden Eye of the Bond film isn't just the name of the MacGuffin, it's also Alec's way of looking at the world. Very cool.

What's also very cool is the opening credits. Maurice Binder was another casualty of the long break after Licence to Kill, so Broccoli and Wilson hired music video director Daniel Kleinman to design the main titles. He'd worked with a variety of bands in the '80s, including Madonna, Van Halen, Pat Benatar, and The Pretenders.

He brings a whole new style to the Bond credits, which was sorely needed, and he's been designing all of them ever since. Instead of just photographic tricks, Kleinman includes computer generated imagery, opening the sequences to many more possibilities and allowing more freedom to include themes from the movie. For GoldenEye, he opens with a reprise of the traditional gun barrel sequence, but shows the flames and bullet shooting out of it. The flames become a golden haze that then becomes a golden eye. This leads into imagery of falling Soviet iconography with some of the statues being broken up by women with hammers (more Soviet symbolism). Some of the statues also have golden eyes, further tying together the themes. And there's a sequence where two women's faces share the same head, representing the two-faced god Janus whose name Alec adopts as an alias. It's a fantastic job by Kleinman and one of my favorite title designs.

Top Ten Theme Songs

1. A View to a Kill
2. The Living Daylights
3. The Spy Who Loved Me ("Nobody Does It Better")
4. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
5. Diamonds Are Forever
6. You Only Live Twice
7. From Russia With Love (instrumental version)
8. Live and Let Die
9. Dr No
10. GoldenEye

Top Ten Title Sequences

1. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
2. Dr No
3. Thunderball
4. Goldfinger
5. GoldenEye
6. From Russia with Love
7. The Spy Who Loved Me
8. Diamonds Are Forever
9. Live and Let Die
10. Moonraker


Saturday, August 15, 2015

GoldenEye (1995) | Villains



GoldenEye fakes viewers out by setting up General Ourumov as a main villain similar to the evil Russian generals from Octopussy and The Living Daylights. His plan is much simpler than theirs though and he really plays more of a henchman role to the scheme's actual mastermind. Ourumov would be a forgettable character if he weren't played by Gottfried John, who gives him a wonderful sense of bemusement. And I love how he runs into Bond's interrogation, breathless and barely in uniform, to prevent Bond's revealing anything damaging, which he does nicely. He just comes across as incredibly bright and it's too bad he's dispatched so easily once the true villain is revealed.



I love Famke Janssen, but I have a rough time buying Xenia Onatopp. She has some great moments (I adore the way she says, "Nice to meet you, Mr. Bond" at the end of their first encounter), but her orgasmic sadism is too much. She's insane to the point that she's no longer fun.

She's also a super sloppy lover and her make-out scenes hurt me to watch as much as they do her partners to participate in.



GoldenEye just killed it on casting its bad guys. Boris Grishenko is an annoying character, but so watchable thanks to Alan Cumming. Among his many flaws though, what bugs me most about him is that he types one-handed so that he can use the other to play with Bond's explosive pen. I get being a tactile thinker, but that seems excessive in that particular scenario.



Besides being played by the great Sean Bean, Alec Trevelyan finally delivers what Scaramanga was designed to: the anti-Bond. Scaramanga was a great assassin, but that doesn't make him an evil version of Bond, who - licence to kill or not - has never been about murder. Trevelyan used to do what Bond does and he knows Bond's thought processes, because they were his own. There's a great moment where he questions whether Bond's drinking and womanizing work as cures for all the deaths that Bond's witnessed or caused. He's a crucial part of GoldenEye's pulling apart the character of James Bond to see how he works and how he can be used going forward.

Sadly, Trevelyan works much better thematically than he does as an actual villain. He makes all the usual mistakes, starting with failing to kill Bond when he has the chance. Instead, he goes with an overly complicated plan that involves tying Bond into a helicopter cockpit that's going to shoot itself with its own missiles. And later, he makes the same error that SPECTRE kept making in You Only Live Twice when Bond's looking for the secret base in Cuba. There's no way Bond would have found it if Trevelyan hadn't shot a missile at Bond's plane to let him know he was close. Guess those other Double-Os really are that bad.

Top Ten Villains

1. Auric Goldfinger (Goldfinger)
2. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Never Say Never Again)
3. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (From Russia With Love and Thunderball)
4. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
5. Maximilian Largo (Never Say Never Again)
6. Francisco Scaramanga (The Man with the Golden Gun)
7. Dr. Kananga (Live and Let Die)
8. Doctor No (Dr. No)
9. General Gogol (For Your Eyes Only)
10. Karl Stromberg (The Spy Who Loved Me)

Top Ten Henchmen

1. Baron Samedi (Live and Let Die)
2. Fiona Volpe (Thunderball)
3. Grant (From Russia with Love)
4. Nick Nack (The Man with the Golden Gun)
5. Gobinda (Octopussy)
6. May Day (A View to a Kill)
7. Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker)
8. Naomi (The Spy Who Loved Me)
9. Oddjob (Goldfinger)
10. Necros (The Living Daylights)

Friday, August 14, 2015

GoldenEye (1995) | Women



Caroline, the psychologist sent by M to evaluate Bond, is a weak and easily manipulated character. She appears to be an intentional throwback to stereotypical Bond Girls from the past - a way of setting a base level for the rest of the movie to comment on - but she's still annoying.



I like Natalya Simonova a lot. She gets pulled into the story against her will, but even though she doesn't have spy skills, she's able to use what she does have to help herself and Bond. And in keeping with the theme of Bond's relationship to "female authority," he even defers to Natalya a couple of times, playfully calling her, "sir."

Like I said the other day, too, Natalya's also very perceptive. She sees through Bond's act and calls him on it, grieving that she'll never get as close to him as she would like to. Viewers always know that Bond's romances will never stick, but it's rare for his companions to realize it too. She's too good for him and cracks my Top Ten.

My Favorite Bond Women

1. Tracy Bond (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
2. Melina Havelock (For Your Eyes Only)
3. Kara Milovy (The Living Daylights)
4. Paula Caplan (Thunderball)
5. Tatiana Romanova (From Russia With Love)
6. Natalya Simonova (GoldenEye)
7. Fiona Volpe (Thunderball)
8. Domino Derval (Thunderball)
9. Holly Goodhead (Moonraker)
10. Mary Goodnight (The Man with the Golden Gun)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

GoldenEye (1995) | Bond

Actors and Allies



Brosnan's Bond in GoldenEye is darker than Moore's, but jokier than Dalton's, which means that he's essentially playing the Connery version. He's tough, but not taking things too seriously. On the other hand, some things that Dalton winked at - like ordering his special martini - Brosnan plays totally straight. It'll be interesting to watch the rest of the Brosnan films and see how well they can keep the balance between darkness and humor. My memory is that they don't do it as well as GoldenEye.

Not that GoldenEye has it perfect. For example, it can't find the right tone for Bond's relationship with Moneypenny (now played by Samantha Bond). Their scene together starts off pretty dark, with Bond's "flirtation" coming across more like sexual harassment. It's not that Brosnan's Bond is actually doing anything different from his predecessors; it's all in Moneypenny's reaction to him. She's barely tolerating him and eager to brush him off, which makes his jokes and innuendos seem unwanted.

That might be because she doesn't want to be in the office in the first place. It's after hours and she's dressed for a date, so maybe she's just irritated and taking it out on Bond. She does end up playing along with him by the end of the conversation, but is that just her going back to a banter she's used to? Or is she worn down by his nuisance?

Her being in evening wear isn't much of a clue. It's nice to know that she has a life outside of pining for Bond, but we don't know anything about the person she's going out with. Could be a first date; could be a night out with her sister for all we know. Unfortunately, we don't have enough to go on from these versions of Moneypenny and Bond yet.

Bond comments that he's never seen Moneypenny after hours. That reminds me of an interview that Lois Maxwell once gave where she talked about a backstory that she and Connery had created for their characters. They'd decided that Moneypenny and Bond had dated briefly while coming up through the ranks, but once they reached a certain level they realized that continued dating wasn't going to work. It was a mutual decision and that explains their easy flirting. Brosnan and Bond (Samantha, that is) don't have that kind of rapport and it's right there in the script that they don't. We'll have to keep watching the series to get a baseline for what kind of relationship they're supposed to have.

On to the more important woman in Bond's life, casting Judi Dench as M was a genius move. It puts a huge spotlight on Bond's attitudes about women, which was sorely needed if he's going to be a character that modern audiences can take seriously. More than just that though, Dench's M and Brosnan's Bond have an additional layer of conflict thanks to fundamental differences in their opinions about how espionage work should be carried out. She relies heavily on analysts (Bill Tanner refers to her as "the evil queen of numbers") where Bond is all about hunches and instinct born from experience.

It's manufactured conflict that doesn't pay off in a big way, but it does bring out a great conversation between the two of them. Explaining her methods, M gives Bond a speech about having the balls to send him to his death, and she means it too. Trusting the analysts isn't the same as playing it safe. But she's also not completely cold. As she dismisses him for his mission, she orders him to "come back alive" in a way that's extremely motherly. That's not a sexist thing. Bernard Lee was just as much the parental figure to Bond (as was the literary M), so Dench is carrying on an important tradition. She has something to prove in this introduction to her, but as we get to know her, she'll be just as strong as Lee. More so, because she'll be less enigmatic than he was. The weird M turns out to be Robert Brown, who was more cold and accountant-like than Dench by a long shot.

I love GoldenEye's intro to Q. When Bond arrives in Q-Branch, Q is looking frail and especially elderly in a wheelchair with a cast on his leg. Bond asks if it was a skiing accident (of course he would guess that) and there's a gleam in Q's eye as he fires a rocket from the cast and corrects Bond: "Hunting!" Then he stands up and starts the briefing. Desmond Llewelyn is in top form, as he was in Licence to Kill. Probably my favorite line of the movie is when Bond picks up a sandwich from a table and Q yells, "Don't touch that!" before adding, "That's my lunch!" It's a stupid line, but Llewelyn's timing on it is perfect.

Bond has a couple of field allies in GoldenEye, starting with Jack Wade. It's a much better role for Joe Don Baker than Brad Whitaker was in The Living Daylights. Wade is sort of a cross between Felix Leiter and Dikko Henderson from the novel You Only Live Twice. He's laid back like Felix, but in a crude way like Dikko. I like him a lot. My only problem with him is resentment that the Bond series had so screwed up Felix that the only way they could see to make him memorable was to replace him with a whole new character.

The other ally is Zukovsky, played by Robbie "Hagrid" Coltrane. I like that he and Bond already have some history and a shaky relationship, but the best thing about him is his karaoke-singing girlfriend, played by Minnie Driver just before her career took off.

Best Quip



"Head to toe," in response to Wade's paranoid question about the Russian Natalya, "Did you check her out?"

Worst Quip



"One rises to meet a challenge," to Xenia Onatopp's expressing that she hopes he's more talented in bed than at cars or cards.

Gadgets



The gadgets are low-key in GoldenEye. Q pimps out Bond's BMW, but none of the tricks are ever used. All we get are some personal items. The laser watch is right out of Never Say Never Again and the explosive pen isn't super exciting either, even though it's used in a crucial moment. I do like the piton and rope built into Bond's belt, but it's not cool enough to crack my Top Ten either.

Top Ten Gadgets

1. Lotus Esprit (The Spy Who Loved Me)
2. Aston Martin DB V (Goldfinger and Thunderball)
3. Jet pack (Thunderball)
4. Iceberg boat (A View to a Kill)
5. Aston Martin V8 Vantage (The Living Daylights)
6. Glastron CV23HT speed boat (Moonraker)
7. Acrostar Mini Jet (Octopussy)
8. Crocodile submarine (Octopussy)
9. Little Nellie (You Only Live Twice)
10. Rocket cigarettes (You Only Live Twice)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

GoldenEye (1995) | Story



Plot Summary

Coincidences and hunches throw Bond into a case involving a destroyed Soviet satellite station and a ghost from Bond's past.

Influences

Before getting into the influences for GoldenEye, let's pause for a moment of silence for The Property of a Lady, what would have been the third Timothy Dalton movie. The 007 Wiki has more details about it if you're curious, but a couple of things are relevant to GoldenEye.

First, it was a financial conflict between the producers and the studio that caused Property to be delayed. Dalton had a three-picture contract (just like Moore had started with) and everything was on track to fulfill it. There was a script, but Broccoli and Family didn't like the way that MGM (who'd bought United Artists) were dividing profits from a distribution deal. It's all very boring to me, but here's the Wikipedia article if you're curious. The point is that figuring all that out took a lot of time, during which Dalton's contract expired and he (as well as screenwriter Richard Maibaum and director John Glen) walked away.

The second thing about Property that's relevant to GoldenEye is that some script elements survived, including the villain's being a former ally of James Bond. Again, the 007 Wiki has specifics. For the most part though, they went with a whole new story and abandoned the idea of using a Fleming title. Instead, they drew inspiration from the name of Fleming's summer house in Jamaica where he wrote the Bond novels. That's a lame inspiration, but a cool name.

In the movie, Goldeneye is the name of the EMP technology the villains are using; presumably named that because the device is circular and gold-colored. I was curious to know if there was any connection between that and the reason Fleming picked the name for his house, but I couldn't find any. Fleming claimed two different inspirations for the name. One was the novel Reflections in a Golden Eye by Carson McCullers, but the golden eye in that refers to an imaginary peacock that sees horrible and distorted reality, so it's a weird thing to name your house. More convincing is Fleming's explanation that it came from Operation Goldeneye, a WWII mission he planned while working for British Naval Intelligence. I haven't been able to find the source of the operation's name though, so I have no idea how it might connect (or not) to the movie title. In my imagination, I thought that maybe the source of inspiration had something to do with the sun, but I can't find any evidence to back that up. It looks like they just had the name and then created a story around it.

By the time Broccoli and Wilson were finally ready to make the next Bond film, a lot had changed. (And by Broccoli, I really mean Cubby's daughter Barbara now, because she took over for her dad, whose health was deteriorating. He died less than a year after GoldenEye's release.) For one thing, the end of the Cold War had eliminated the Soviets as the easy go-to villains for the series. And with Kevin McClory's still owning the rights to SPECTRE, it would be tough to come up with a new, villainous organization that didn't seem derivative. So they borrowed the traitor idea from the aborted Dalton film and threw in some Russian gangsters (pretty much the new go-to villains for '90s spy movies).

How Is the Book Different?

GoldenEye isn't based on a novel, but it's worth mentioning how much the world had changed since Fleming wrote his series. Not only the collapse of the Soviet Union, but also attitudes towards women. There was a big question about whether Bond was still a relevant character. Wisely, GoldenEye didn't just recognize that, it confronted and commented on it. And it did so in a way that kept the character of Bond intact.

Moment That's Most Like Fleming



I'll get into Brosnan's Bond more tomorrow, but he's not as serious as Dalton's. He's not as nonchalant as Moore either though, because GoldenEye gives an explicit reason for his glibness and it's pretty dark. The script and dialogue acknowledge the grimness of Bond's world and present his casual attitude as a coping mechanism. GoldenEye's admission that Bond has a tough, horrible job is very Fleming, even if the two versions handle it in different ways.

I love that Natalya sees through Bond's humor. She's not one of the most memorable Bond Girls, but she's a good one and perceptive enough that when she tries to get close to Bond, she sees his barriers for what they are. When she calls him on it, his response is, "It's what keeps me alive." She disagrees. "No. It's what keeps you alone."

She and Alec serve similar functions like that. One way that GoldenEye directly matches Fleming is in its major theme about questioning duty. Fleming's Bond is constantly wrestling with whether or not he's in the right job and Alec is all about raising that issue. More on that towards the end of the week, too.

Moment That's Least Like Fleming



As often happens in Bond movies, they part company with Fleming around the tightness of the plot. In GoldenEye, Bond becomes involved in the story through the simple coincidence of his being in Monte Carlo at the same time that Xenia Onatopp is planning to steal the Tiger helicopter. Why is Bond there? Why does he suspect Onatopp enough to look into her activities?

The movie never even tries to answer these questions. Thematically, it fits though. Bond is acting on hunches, which is a point of conflict between him and M. But even though the story proves him right, it does so unconvincingly enough that I can see M's argument. Then again, maybe that's the point: that neither M nor Bond are totally right about which method is best. But even if that's what the movie's trying to achieve, it could have done a stronger job at it.

Cold Open



After three other cold opens where a Double-O dies, GoldenEye does a nice fake-out by pretending to do it again. Of course, casting Sean Bean as 006 kind of gives it away - you just know he'll be back later - but it's a cool effort.

This is my favorite teaser so far. There isn't just one great stunt; there are two. It's starts with Bond's bungee jumping into a Soviet chemical weapons facility and - like On Her Majesty's Secret Service - keeping his face in shadows for a while. He's finally revealed hanging upside down in a bathroom stall, quipping to a guard. It's great.

Then, after 006 is captured and supposedly executed, there's an even better stunt where Bond chases a pilotless aircraft off a cliff on a motorcycle, then freefalls to catch up with the plane, jumps in, and pulls it out of its dive just as it's about to crash into a mountain. And it all ties in to the main story. Just perfect.

Top 10 Cold Opens

1. GoldenEye
2. The Spy Who Loved Me
3. Moonraker
4. Thunderball
5. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
6. A View to a Kill
7. Goldfinger
8. The Man with the Golden Gun
9. The Living Daylights
10. Licence to Kill

Movie Series Continuity



Right after the credits, the movie reveals that the teaser sequence took place nine years earlier. That puts it between View to a Kill and The Living Daylights. Robbie Coltrane's Valentin Zukovsky character also suggests a rich history between him and Bond that we've never seen or heard of before. Which raises the question again about whether Brosnan is playing the same person as Moore and Dalton (and Connery and Lazenby before them). And again, there's no good theory that ties the series' continuity together.

I'm sort of working on one that involves brainwashing and false memories, but it's still a long way off. Mostly I haven't decided yet what benefit MI6 would see in such a scheme and why they would occasionally reinstate a Bond whom they'd used before and then moved away from. Or are there sometimes multiple Bonds? Was Brosnan's character operating simultaneously with Dalton's? Did they know about each other?

The Aston Martin DB5 makes a reappearance, driven by Bond in Monte Carlo as he's being evaluated by the world's worst psychologist. More on her later, but she's an intentional throwback to the kind of women who used to appear in Bond movies, while also introducing the idea of "female authority," as Bond puts it, and his reaction to it.

We see the new MI6 headquarters for the first time and it's the actual headquarters of the actual MI6, which had just opened the year before GoldenEye's release.

Bill Tanner makes his third appearance in a Bond movie, the other two being The Man with the Golden Gun and For Your Eyes Only. This is the first time that his friendship with Bond is especially emphasized though. In the novels, the two are best friends at the agency.

There's a new M of course. More on her later, but we learn that she has children.

And finally, we learn that Bond's parents were killed in a climbing accident. That's from the novels, but I think this is the first time the movies acknowledge it. Alec is also an orphan, leading us to wonder if that's an intentional similarity among the the Double-Os. Skyfall of course will explore this further, and it's looking like SPECTRE probably will, too.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Why I Watch Under the Dome [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

Damon Knight once reviewed a book thusly: "a plot that is kept in motion solely by the fact that everyone involved is an idiot." That very phrase could be applied to Under the Dome. Let's be honest right up front. Under the Dome is probably the stupidest show on TV. Any reasonable person would say - even science fiction and horror fans who have a much higher resistance to silliness - this show is garbage, let's watch something else. Despite this voice of reason in my head (and my wife's voice in my ears), I watch it anyway.

In Season One we had faith in Stephen King. We thought, okay this is strange but slowly we will get answers. At this point we thought, "King has a plan." We trusted him because he gave us so many great thrills in the past. And there was a book - which I haven't read - but perusing its pages I see familiar names and characters, even if they've been changed a bit. (Though I noticed the show was never sold as Stephen King's Under the Dome. Oddly, Steven Spielberg hasn't been very vocal about his involvement either. Hmm...) Still, 11.2 million viewers in Season One.

During Season Two, things begin to fall off the tracks. Stephen King writes and does a cameo in the opening episode and we hang on tight, hoping things will improve. (This episode was by far the best of the series. Even if the whole show falls into a smouldering pile of rubble, we will still have Season 2, Episode 1.) For example, characters start having things happen to them because, well, something has to happen this episode. My favorite of these MacGuffins is when Julia and Barbie crash in the ambulance and Julia gets a piece of rebar through her leg, then they re-enact a seen from James Cameron's The Abyss. Does it further the story of Chester's Mill? Not at all. Does it give Barbie a chance to be heroic, of course. But you know it's filler. Still 7.2 million viewers...

Worse yet, the woman who was shot twice in the chest and had rebar shoved through her leg will be up and running around Nancy Drew-style for the rest of the season. Each season is a week in the life of Chester's Mill and in Season Three (a week later), Julia's all better and the bandage over her jeans (that's all you need for a rebar puncture, I guess) is there, but it's on the wrong leg at one point and pretty much forgotten.

And that's when you realize what Under the Dome is. Like Lost before it, with its ever-shifting ideas, you see the truth. It's Varney the Vampire time. Under the Dome is a modern penny dreadful. (I'm not referring to the show Penny Dreadful, which is probably my favorite show this year. I have only the highest respect for John Logan.) I mean it is the television form of the old penny dreadfuls or penny bloods as they were known. These cheap serials were sold to the masses at a time when novels were very expensive. The average three part novel (The Mysteries of Udolpho, for example) was published in separate parts and sold largely to libraries. The wealthy or middle class didn't buy the books, but paid for a yearly subscription to mobile libraries. So if you had money, you only had to wait three times for the whole story. But if you were poor, you paid a penny a week and got the story a hundredth at a time. Or in the case of Varney, 220ths at a time. Anyone reading the story in this fashion could not be expected to remember all the details. And they certainly expected something to happen in each chapter.

The penny bloods offered up characters like Varney the Vampire by Thomas Preskett Prest (or James Malcolm Rymer, you decide) with 876 double-sided pages equalling 667,000 words. (To put that in perspective, that's the length of two GRR Martin Song of Fire and Ice books.) There was also Wagner the Wehr-Wolf by George WM Reynolds at over 211,000 words. This seems less impressive but Reynolds also wrote The Mysteries of London at a whopping two and half million words. Writing this kind of story required the author to add more and more incidents, dropping story lines, adding new characters. Sound familiar?

Despite having the ability to remember what happened in Episode 1, Under the Dome fans don't bother to recall certain details. Like the fact that Big Jim Renny has murdered a lot of people to keep his illegal gas business secret. That he converted to believing the Dome was heaven-sent and needed to be worshipped. That he got the egg outside the Dome. None of that matters. All you need to know in Season Three is he is one of the Good Guys, interfering with the alien-possessed Kinship, led by Marg Helgenberger's character, Christine. (Helgenberger should be familiar with King-style alien takeovers, because she was in the miniseries of The Tommyknockers in 1993.) Can't keep up? It doesn't matter, because something else will happen this week. An apocalypse may wipe out the world outside the dome. Or not, depending on which week you watch. By next season (if God help us there is a Season Four!) it will al be co-opted by a new explanation.

And that's why I watch Under the Dome. I may be one of the dwindling numbers, (down twenty percent from last week's episode), but I watch to see how crazy it will be this week. What previous story details will be conveniently ignored? Which of the good guys will become bad guys and vice versa? I sit there, daring the writers to outrage me. To come up with the crazy, stupidest crap imaginable. It's not what TV is supposed to be, but this is the 19th Century - I mean, 21st Century. (And if I get tired of it I can always go watch The Strain. Del Toro wrote three books and the show has a plan!) The penny dreadful has returned and it is called Under the Dome!

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Licence to Kill (1989) | Music



John Barry wasn't available to score Licence to Kill due to some surgery he was recovering from, so Michael Kamen was hired to replace him. Because of the unexpectedly long break after Licence, Barry's last Bond score would be The Living Daylights. Kamen was an interesting substitute because Licence is already so reminiscent of other '80s action movie and Kamen's resumé included films like Lethal Weapon and Die Hard. He must have seemed like a natural choice.

Kamen didn't have anything to do with the theme song though. In keeping with the darker tone of the movie, Broccoli and Wilson first tried to get a song that hearkened all the way back to Dr. No. They approached Vic Flick, who'd played guitar in John Barry's band and is the one who recorded the classic Bond Theme riff for Dr. No. They were going to get him and Eric Clapton to write and perform the song, but didn't like what the duo came up with. Instead, they commissioned a song by a different group of songwriters; based on the horn line from Goldfinger. That's the one that Gladys Knight recorded.

Knowing the thought behind the song - that it was intentionally trying to emulate the older movies - helps me with it a little, but I still don't like it. Coming off of Duran Duran and a-ha, and hoping for a similarly contemporary sound for the Licence song, I was hugely disappointed with the throwback. Knight has a great voice, of course, but it's not a good song. The lyrics are so easy and on-the-nose and don't get me started on the cheesy, whispered "to kill" that repeats all through it. Just ugh.

Continuing the new tradition started in The Living Daylights, the movie also has a different end credits song. It's not a Bond-sounding song, but I do like "If You Asked Me To" by Patti LaBelle on its own merits.

The opening credits are designed by Maurice Binder one last time. I feel like his heart's in it more than it was in the last couple of movies, though I don't understand all of his choices. The teaser ends with everyone going into the church for Felix and Della's wedding, so Binder pulls back to show that shot in a camera lens, maybe like it's a photographer at the ceremony. There's other camera imagery in the credits too though: a stylized shutter and some contact sheets. He even finishes the credits as he began, with a camera lens that shows the first shot of the movie. Cameras aren't a big thing in Licence though, so I don't know why they're so prominent here.

He's also into roulette apparently, because there are two different shots relating to that: one of a table and the other of a spinning wheel (at least, I think that's what it is; it's going pretty fast). Bond does do some gambling in Licence, but he doesn't play roulette, so again, I'm not sure what Binder's up to.

He also uses crosshairs as a motif, which makes tons more sense considering the title of the movie. And there's a cool bit where a gun shoots and Bond's image is projected onto the smoke. Could've used more of that.

Kamen doesn't use the Bond Theme a lot, but he deploys it well. It first shows up in the teaser when Bond's dangling from the helicopter and tying up Sanchez's plane. There's a little bit of it when he's searching Krest's warehouse, but then it comes in big again during the waterskiing stunt and when Bond's popping wheelies in a semi truck.

Top Ten Theme Songs

1. A View to a Kill
2. The Living Daylights
3. The Spy Who Loved Me ("Nobody Does It Better")
4. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
5. Diamonds Are Forever
6. You Only Live Twice
7. From Russia With Love (instrumental version)
8. Live and Let Die
9. Dr No
10. Thunderball

Top Ten Title Sequences

1. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
2. Dr No
3. Thunderball
4. Goldfinger
5. From Russia with Love
6. The Spy Who Loved Me
7. Diamonds Are Forever
8. Live and Let Die
9. Moonraker
10. Octopussy

Friday, August 07, 2015

Licence to Kill (1989) | Villains



Like everything else in Licence to Kill, Sanchez is intentionally unconventional for a Bond film. He wouldn't ordinarily even be in Bond's league. He's not trying to take over the world or anything; he's the kind of guy who ought to be fighting Arnold Schwarzenneger or the A-Team. But because Bond's been de-powered in Licence, Sanchez is a tougher threat.

Robert Davi was typecast in these kinds of roles in the '80s, but I like him a lot. Sanchez is abominable in most ways, but he can be charming too. His downfall is the result of a defect in his character - that he's over-emotional and impulsive - which is as it should be. Bond ultimately gets to him just by finding his buttons and pushing them over and over again.

Not a complaint about the character, but another ding against the movie is the stinger missile plot. It's tacked on to give Pam something extra to do and provide a prop for the finale, but it doesn't have anything to do with the main story and the stakes around it aren't very high.



Sanchez' chief henchman is Dario, played by Benicio Del Toro. I'm hot and cold on Del Toro in general, but Licence is one of the movies where I really like him. He doesn't have to do much more than look terrifying and he does that well. He's not fleshed out enough to crack my Top Ten Henchmen, but I sort of don't want him to be. He's not one of the greats, but he's perfectly effective at what he's supposed to be doing.



Sanchez' organization is way more detailed than we usually see in a Bond movie. As I was compiling my list of Licence's henchmen, I realized how many underlings Sanchez has that not only have speaking parts, but are also integral to his business. There's the accountant Truman-Lodge and the head of security Heller, but also government agents like Ed Killifer and President Lopez who are in Sanchez' pocket. I'm not going to comment on all of them individually though.

One who does deserve a closer look is Milton Krest, partly because he's a Fleming character who was repurposed for Licence. The movie version doesn't have much in common with the book version though except that they're both slimy boat-owners who hunt for ocean animals. And Movie Krest is super slimy. Anthony Zerbe does a great job with him. His connection to Sanchez makes him blustery and brave around most people, but he's also clearly frightened of his boss. I love Krest's conversations with Lupe where she knows how to use Krest's fear against him. And I especially love Zerbe's performance when Sanchez interrogates him about the missing money. Krest has a drink in his hand and Zerbe plays him just slightly sloshed, hinting at other character flaws that are never explicitly stated.



Also not exactly a henchman, but in need of mention of Wayne Newton as Professor Joe. He makes no sense to Sanchez' operation, but Newton is so funny and awesomely cheesy that it just doesn't matter. I love every second he's on screen. Bless his heart.

Top Ten Villains

1. Auric Goldfinger (Goldfinger)
2. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Never Say Never Again)
3. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (From Russia With Love and Thunderball)
4. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
5. Maximilian Largo (Never Say Never Again)
6. Francisco Scaramanga (The Man with the Golden Gun)
7. Dr. Kananga (Live and Let Die)
8. Doctor No (Dr. No)
9. General Gogol (For Your Eyes Only)
10. Karl Stromberg (The Spy Who Loved Me)

Top Ten Henchmen

1. Baron Samedi (Live and Let Die)
2. Fiona Volpe (Thunderball)
3. Grant (From Russia with Love)
4. Nick Nack (The Man with the Golden Gun)
5. Gobinda (Octopussy)
6. May Day (A View to a Kill)
7. Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker)
8. Naomi (The Spy Who Loved Me)
9. Oddjob (Goldfinger)
10. Necros (The Living Daylights)

Licence to Kill (1989) | Women



Talisa Soto was supposedly cast as Lupe because Robert Davi (Sanchez) was present at the audition and remarked that he would kill for her. I know what he means. She's a tragic, desperately powerless character, but she's also pleasant and helpful and I'm invested in making sure she's okay. She's using Bond to get away from Sanchez, but I never doubt for a second that she also really likes him. I like her a lot better than Pam, actually.



The trouble with Pam Bouvier is the same problem that so much of Licence to Kill has. Like with M and Felix, the movie wants to do something different with her, but can't bring itself to go all the way with it. She and Bond are supposed to have one of those adversarial romances where they bicker all the time. But the movie undercuts that by having her and Bond make out moments after they've teamed up. That's how Bond always does; it just removes all the will-they-won't-they tension that these kinds of relationships are supposed to have. Licence tries to replace it with some manufactured conflict between Pam and Bond, but it never feels real and it hurts Pam as a character.

She doesn't act like a normal person and it's especially awkward to watch that last scene where she gets jealous of Lupe and runs away crying. Again, the movie's trying to do some kind of weird romcom thing, complete with Bond's making a big gesture to convince her he really likes her, and followed by a cute prank to let us know that everything's okay. And what the hell's up with that winking fish?

My Favorite Bond Women

1. Tracy Bond (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
2. Melina Havelock (For Your Eyes Only)
3. Kara Milovy (The Living Daylights)
4. Paula Caplan (Thunderball)
5. Tatiana Romanova (From Russia With Love)
6. Fiona Volpe (Thunderball)
7. Domino Derval (Thunderball)
8. Holly Goodhead (Moonraker)
9. Mary Goodnight (The Man with the Golden Gun)
10. Andrea Anders (The Man with the Golden Gun)

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Licence to Kill (1989) | Bond

Actors and Allies



Timothy Dalton is doing the same thing in Licence to Kill that he did in The Living Daylights, but his character doesn't feel like Bond to me this time. The problem is the story. What worked so well about Living Daylights was that it put Dalton's super serious Bond in the middle of a traditional Bond adventure. Licence wants the story to match the character, but it goes too far and doesn't feel like a Bond movie to me. It's nothing more than an acceptable (but derivative) '80s action movie with some traditional Bond characters and gadgets laid over the top.

The one exception to that - the one time that it really feels like a Bond movie to me - is when Bond escapes underwater attackers by shooting a tethered spear into the pontoon of a seaplane and waterskis behind it as the Bond Theme blares triumphantly. It's a great stunt and an awesome moment.

An example of Bond's not really working in this plot is how forced his resignation is. M flies all the way to Florida to confront Bond about getting back on the job and heading to Istanbul for his next assignment. I love the idea that M's got Bond's next assignment ready and is anxious to get him there, but he's unexpectedly inflexible about it. Robert Brown's M has never been as personable as Bernard Lee's gruff, but caring boss was, so it's not out of character for him. It's just hard to reconcile with the numerous times that Bond has taken leave before to deal with personal stuff. There are other Double-Os. What's going on in Istanbul that's so important that Bond specifically is needed to deal with it? The world clearly doesn't come to an end because he takes time off (though how cool an ending would that have been?) and M welcomes him back to MI6 with zero consequences.

M may not be acting out of character, but Moneypenny certainly is. At least, she's not the same person that Lois Maxwell played. The Living Daylights gave us a hint of that, but it's really obvious in Licence. It's cool that she's worried about Bond, but not that it's making her incompetent at her job.

Back on the positive side: this may be my favorite Q story ever. We've seen Q hit the field before; usually to supply Bond with some complicated tech. This time, he's effectively gone rogue, bringing whatever crap he had lying around. The Bond/Q animosity was gone in Living Daylights, but this time there's genuine affection between the two of them. Q's taking a great risk in helping Bond and Bond tells him, "You're a hell of a field operative." It's lovely.

I like that Felix has more to do in this movie than he usually does. And Della is a great partner for him. I sometimes hear speculation that there's something going on between Della and Bond, but I don't see it. She's super friendly around him and kisses him all the time, but she does it in front of Felix and there's nothing sexual about it. She's just that kind of person and she genuinely loves Bond as much as Felix does. They make a great trio and it's tough to watch how happy they all are knowing what's going to happen. My complaint about the whole thing is how quickly Felix gets over Della's death. By the end of the movie he's in the hospital, but yukking it up with Bond on the phone like nothing's happened. It's the same as the M situation. The movie sets up this horrible, remarkable set of circumstances, but wants to hit the reset button at the end so that we're all back to normal for the next movie. It can't have it both ways.

Sharkey's a cool, original character. I'm curious about where he came from and wonder if with the other Live and Let Die references he might be inspired by Quarrel.

The only other allies worth mentioning - and I hesitate to call them allies - are the Hong Kong narcotics agents who conveniently get in the way just long enough to endear Bond to Sanchez. I like the idea of them, it's just that they're gone almost as soon as they show up. Would've been cool to see them and Bond working against each other for longer.

Best Quip



"Bon appétit," after locking a guard in a drawer full of maggots. After I picked it, I realized that it totally rips off Conney's piranha line from You Only Live Twice, but oh well. Quips aren't really appropriate to Licence's tone and Dalton doesn't sound comfortable with them, so this is as good as we get.

An honorable mention is when Bond turns over his weapon to M in Ernest Hemingway's house and says, "I guess that's farewell to arms." I love the pun, but again, that's a crazy awkward time to be making it.

Worst Quip



"Looks like he came to a dead end," when Sanchez's head of security is run through with a forklift and crashes through a wall.

Gadgets



Not much in the way of gadgets for Licence. It's pretty much whatever Q had lying around, which is a tube of plastic explosive toothpaste, a cigarette pack detonator, and a camera gun keyed to Bond's handprint. They all come in handy, of course, but as befitting a box of junk, none of them are especially memorable.

Top Ten Gadgets

1. Lotus Esprit (The Spy Who Loved Me)
2. Aston Martin DB V (Goldfinger and Thunderball)
3. Jet pack (Thunderball)
4. Iceberg boat (A View to a Kill)
5. Aston Martin V8 Vantage (The Living Daylights)
6. Glastron CV23HT speed boat (Moonraker)
7. Acrostar Mini Jet (Octopussy)
8. Crocodile submarine (Octopussy)
9. Little Nellie (You Only Live Twice)
10. Rocket cigarettes (You Only Live Twice)

Bond's Best Outfit



I'm getting bored with the fashion stuff now that we're out of the '60s and '70s. Probably going to drop this section from here out. I've always liked the white cotton shirt with khakis look though, and Bond's blue jacket is pretty snazzy too, even with the shoulder pads.

Bond's Worst Outfit



Strangely, it's the tux. It's Bond's iconic look, but Dalton doesn't look that comfortable in it. He's not that kind of spy.

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